Wishing for Peaceful Days Ahead

From the Desk of Heidi Gantwerk - President & CEOCommUNITY Israel Trip

Dear Friends, 

Shalom l’kulam; hello from Israel. This week, as part of our “Gesher” initiative, I have had the immense privilege of spending time here with five of my remarkable San Diego colleagues; Betzy Lynch of the Lawrence Family JCC, Zvi Weiss of San Diego Jewish Academy, Pam Ferris of Seacrest Retirement Village, Karen Parry of Hillel of San Diego, and Michael Hopkins of Jewish Family Service. We are building friendships and connections to the agencies, such as the Resilience Center and the Yachdav Senior Center, that serve Sha’ar HaNegev, our sister region. We have learned so much about what community resilience looks like, and what roles the government, the community, organizations, the family, and the individual all play in strengthening this resilience in the face of trauma that is sadly part of life on the Gaza Border.

At the same time, resilience here is so much more than merely responding to trauma. It is about creating connections, cultivating joy and beauty, celebrating nature, and taking seriously the wellbeing of every single person “from 0-104” as our amazing 85-year-old tour guide, Tammy, shared with us yesterday. 

We all woke up here Wednesday to news of the tragic, horrific, and senseless shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Like you, we are all devastated. We started our day at a brand new, fully reinforced (i.e. safe from rocket-fire) elementary school with hundreds of second and third graders singing with such ruach, preparing for their “Mataan Torah” ceremony. We ended it with a moving ceremony at Kibbutz Ibim, the Ethiopian Absorption Center, where we memorialized the 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who perished making their way through Sudan on their journey to Israel. That ceremony was filled with children as well, reading poems, dancing, and singing Hatikvah with the Israeli flag held high. It both broke our hearts and lifted our spirits to see these beautiful children participating with such energy and excitement in these community events while our own country was mourning the loss of 19 of our own children and 2 adults that cared for them. May their memories be for a blessing. And may our San Diego teachers have the strength to process such a horrible event.  

Throughout the day we reflected on all of the ways that Sha’ar HaNegev protects their most precious resource, their children and their people, not just physically, but psychologically. The tragedy in Texas, which has happened in so many other schools in the U.S., is incomprehensible to our Israeli hosts, and really to us as well. The need to invest in the safety of our schools and community institutions, and to provide for the physical and mental health and wellbeing of every member of our community from 0-104, is something we all feel. Federation prioritizes the safety and security of our local community institutions. As part of these efforts, you are invited to join us June 7, 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Family JCC, for a special Countering Active Threat Training (CATT), offered by Jewish Federations of North America’s Secure Community Network. Register here. This is open to anyone and is a comprehensive training program developed for faith-based institutions and houses of worship to counter an active threat event.

We hope that this incredible trip marks a new era of working together across our agencies in San Diego and with our partners in Sha’ar HaNegev to enhance what it means to create and support community. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of this amazing group of leaders.

Tonight, we celebrate Kabbalat Shabbat, and tomorrow we spend the day hiking and touring the South with our new friends for life. We are building our own resilience, together, and nothing could be more welcome or needed.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, and more peaceful days ahead,

Heidi Gantwerk
President & Chief Executive Officer

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